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May 16, 1986 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-05-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

25

FOCUS

etein 76 Ar ifizet4i

dal 2 /'

/co hope

BY ELIE WIESEL

Contributing Editor

Dear Vladimir Slepak,
I feel the need to write to
you in order to urge you not
to give up on us.
I know: things around you
don't seem to improve. On
the contrary, the pressures
on the Russian Jewish corn-
munity become heavier and
heavier. Threats, more and
more real, strike more and
more Jews whose only "crime"
is to want to live as Jews.
As in the time of the Ro-
man occupation of Palestine
long ago, the study and prac-
tice of our ancient, immortal
laws is punished by prison. In
order to live as Jews, your
friends must submit to perse-
cutions and humiliations. The
"refuseniks" are treated as
pariahs. Isolated from soci-
ety, deprived of work, they
live in anguish and expecta-
tion. How do they manaage,
how do you manage, my
friend, not to lose hope?
For twenty years a deep
bond has existed between us.
For reasons outside our con-
trol, we have never met; but
we do know each other. You
were present in 1965 at the
time of my first trip to the
USSR, and you are present in
me today. Often, it is I who
lose courage; I fight for you,
I fight with all the means
available to me, and, despite
promises, despite "signs"
given from time to time,
nothing happens; you remain
the prisoner of an oppressive,
anti-Jewish regime. If you
knew, dear Vladimir Slepak,
how many times your friends
here, myself included, have
written petitions and re-
quests to presidents, minis-
ters, statesmen in order that

they might intercede on your
behalf at the Kremlin.
Why were you singled out,
why did they detain you
longer than the others?
Without doubt because you
were the first, or one of the
first, to teach Hebrew and
Judaism, the first to organize
courses and seminars for the
young Jews of the capital, the
first to present through
study a powerful challenge to
the dictatorship and its poli-
tics of fear. Many "refuse-
niks" saw in you an older
brother, a spiritual guide.
When they left for the air-
port, exit visa in hand, you
accompanied them to wish
them bon voyage; and good-
bye. You watched them leave,
then you returned home.
Such is the wish of the Krem-
lin; to show you that your
destiny is to remain behind
always. Since you were the
first to proclaim yourself free,
you are condemned to be the
last to set out for freedom.
Yes, my friend, how do you
manage to hold out? From
where do you draw your cour-
age, your faith?
If, at least, I could assure
you of the desire of our com-
munities to continue to fight
for you and your brothers,
you would perhaps feel bet-
ter, and so would I. Unfor-
tunately, I can't do that.
Why lie to you? Fervor among
us diminishes continually.
The enthusiasm which burst
over us during the early '70s
has yielded its place to an in-
spid, unimaginative bur-
eaucracy. Certainly our civil
servants do their work. But
it's not the same thing.
Organizations cannot func-

Slepak:' Many "refuseniks"
see him as a spiritual guide.

Photo courtesy of National Conference on
Soviet Jewry

tion without quarrels and in-
trigues. Take, for example,
the case of two organizations
which exist here, both sup-
posed to act on behalf of Rus-
sian Jews. Relations between
them are worse than strained.
Only one of them was invited
to the meeting of the
"Presidium of the Conference
on Russian Jews," held in
Washington in early
September. I am told that
this meeting had its share of
crises. Only ideological ones?
Personality conflicts per-
haps? Don't hold it against
them; these Jewish leaders
too thought and tried to do
good.
The Jewish people remain
your ally—know that. Count
on us. Will we be strong
enough to influence Gor-
bachev? Or to move our
leaders so that they will do
so? There are enough of us
here and throughout the
Jewish world to think of you

constantly, to go to all
lengths to help you.
Oh, I know: we've been say-
ing the same thing for twen-
ty years; we will continue to
say it. Are you aware of that?
Sometimes I am no longer so
sure. Here's another example.
During the conference of the
"Presidium" in Washington,
a speaker asserted that the
"refuseniks" had told him
that I didn't answer their let-
ters. Friends tried to assuage
my anger: "Don't take this
defamation seriously." But
how can I be sure, dear Vladi-
mir Slepak, that all your let-
ters reach me? How can I be
sure that all my answers ar-
rive at their destinations? If
one of your friends were
seriously to believe that I am
no longer concerned with his
or her plight, that would
drive me to despair. You
know it, don't you, my
friend? Not a single day goes
by that I don't, in thought,

join in your struggle — the
most noble I know of — to
keep alive the memory and
the hope of our people.
And on the evening of
Simhat Torah, I will dance
with you. I will sing with you,
in front of the synagogue in
Moscow, and we will watch
together the thousands of
young people, boys and girls,
gathered from • all corners of
their exile to assert their
loyalty to the Jewish people,
and together we will be proud
of them and their courage.
When I think of them, when
I think of you, my friend, it
is always the holiday of
Simhat Torah which comes to
my mind. It helps me to per-
severe. That is why I write to
you. To tell-you that, with all
my might, I try to share your
destiny. Because for Jews
there is only one destiny.

Translated from the French
by Ann Stiller

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